Wednesday, August 18, 2010

When You Promise Change, You'd Better Deliver

And pronto.

Sometimes I think Barack Obama and the Democrats would rather not talk much about the 2008 campaign — unless it means an easy opening for bashing George W. Bush some more.

But that "hope" and "change" rhetoric is going to ring rather hollow in the ears of the vanishing middle class, especially those who have been out of work for awhile.

I have no doubt that Obama's diehard supporters will insist that he has delivered change in his first 19 months in office.

The validity of that position, I suppose — to borrow another president's words — depends on what your definition of is is.

Perception — as I have said many times — is reality. So I understand the rationale of those in the Obama camp who believe they can reason their way out of an electoral disaster.

And, for them, it may be sufficient to recite those achievements in the apparent belief that the voters simply need to be reminded who was running the show when the economy imploded and what the Democrats have been doing to try to salvage it.

For the most part, theirs seems to be a record that is consistent with their apparent objectives and beliefs (whether stated or unstated).

Obama and his fellow Democrats did enact a massive stimulus, even though unemployment continued to go up through 2009 and now appears stuck between 9.5% and 10% (not counting those whose benefits have expired or who are part–timers or otherwise "underemployed") — and even though many economists said at the time, and continue to say, that it wasn't large enough.

He pushed through a massive health care reform package — which, actually, won't be implemented for several years.

He nominated two women to the Supreme Court, both of whom were approved without much opposition.

The voters — those crummy ingrates — aren't giving the president and the Democrats the credit they deserve, Obama seems to feel, so he has been reminding voters lately of all the things he's done for them, how his initiatives are going to make things better in the future. And this looks like something he'll be doing quite a bit between now and November.

Now, all that long–term stuff is good, and all the lovely projections are nice to talk about. But let's be honest here. If you're a working man who has lost his job and can't pay his mortgage and can't feed his kids, that is what is going to dominate your agenda from one election to the next.

A lot of those people voted for Democrats in 2006 and 2008 (especially 2008). In 2010, they're frustrated by the slow pace of job gains — which, last month, weren't gains at all — and they aren't concerned about political philosophy or anything else except jobs.

From where they sit, if the Democrats haven't been able to deliver, maybe the Republicans have learned something from spending the last few years in the wilderness. Or, like the woman in the video, they just might not bother to vote at all this time.

When you are elected president under a banner of "CHANGE," that is what the voters expect.


Clearly visible change.

The initiatives and the appointments for which Obama can claim credit may well bear fruit many years from now — and future historians may sing his praises, as modern historians do today for some one–term presidents who acted in what they believed were the long–term interests of the nation but ignored the short term by which they and the members of their party were judged.

Now, like Ronald Reagan 28 years before, Obama wants voters to "stay the course." But voters in 1982 were much like the voters in 2010. They changed parties in the White House two years earlier, and improvements were hard to see by the time the midterm elections rolled around.

That was bad news for Republicans, who had made much of the Democrats' quarter–century hold on congressional power with their "Vote Republican. For a Change" campaign in 1980 (see clip at top of post).

They had persuaded voters to give them both the White House and control of the Senate. They hadn't won control of the House, but they gained 34 seats, and Republicans were able to persuade enough of the remaining Democrats to vote with them to implement what became known as the "Reagan Revolution."

But the revolution seemed to have profited the rich and the elite, not the working class — and the working class gave 25 House seats back to the Democrats. At this point in 1982, Reagan (whose approval rating was in the 50s and 60s for most of his first year in office) had an approval rating of 41% — which just happens to be where Obama's job approval currently stands, according to Gallup.

By the time Americans went to the polls in November 1982, Reagan's approval had crept up to 43%.

A pretty face, John Lennon wrote nearly four decades ago, may last a year or two "but pretty soon they'll see what you can do."

And, at a time when Americans have been crying out for job creation, the answer to that one is, "Not much."

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